Francis Brown & the Dartmouth College Case

Our ancestor Francis BROWN’s (1716 – ) namesake grandson Francis Brown played a pivotal role in a  landmark decision from the United States Supreme Court dealing with the application of the Contract Clause of the Constitution to private corporations.  He won the case, but the strain of the high stakes fight led to his early death.

Brown was removed from his presidency at the College as part of the actions that resulted in the Dartmouth College case, but was reinstated following the 1819 decision in favor of the College.

The statesman and leading Senator Daniel Webster was famous for his eloquence and was the greatest orator of his day.   His speech in support of Dartmouth (which he described as “a small college,” adding, “and yet there are those who love it”) was so moving that it apparently helped convince Chief Justice John Marshall, also reportedly bringing tears to Webster’s eyes.

I’ve included my favorite American history movie scene of all time, in which Daniel Webster bests Satan in a jury trial to save the soul of New Hampshireman Jabez Stone from  The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941).

Francis Brown (1784-1820)

Our branch of the Brown family became New England Planters in New Brunswick (see my post) who immigrated to the wilderness in the 1760’s.  Many of the cousins who stayed behind became illustrious members of northern New England Society in Newbury, Mass. Maine and New Hampshire.

Rev. Francis Brown was born 11 Jan 1784 in Chester, NH,,  He married 11 Feb 1811 to Elizabeth Gilman daughter of Rev. Tristram Gilman of Yarmouth, Maine, a lady of fine intellectual powers and devoted Christian character. Francis died 27 Jul 1820);

Francis (wiki) served as the president of Dartmouth College from September, 1815 to July, 1820.

Francis graduated from the College in 1805 and from 1806–1809 held a tutorship there. He also served a pastor in a Congregational church in North Yarmouth, Maine.. Brown was removed from his presidency at the College as part of the actions that resulted in the Dartmouth College case, but was reinstated following the 1819 decision in favor of the College.

A pastor from North Yarmouth, Maine, he presided over Dartmouth College during the famous Supreme Court hearing of Trustees of Dartmouth College v. William H. Woodward or, as it is more commonly called, the Dartmouth College Case.

Dartmouth College Shield

Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 518 (1819), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case dealing with the application of the Contract Clause of the United States Constitution to private corporations. The case arose when the president of Dartmouth College was deposed by its trustees, leading to the New Hampshire legislature attempting to force the college to become a public institution and thereby place the ability to appoint trustees in the hands of the governor. The Supreme Court upheld the sanctity of the original charter of the college, which pre-dated the creation of the State. The decision settled the nature of public versus private charters and resulted in the rise of the American business corporation.

The contest was a pivotal one for Dartmouth and for the newly independent nation. It tested the contract clause of the Constitution and arose from an 1816 controversy involving the legislature of the state of New Hampshire, which amended the 1769 charter granted to Eleazar Wheelock, making Dartmouth a public institution and changing its name to Dartmouth University. Under the leadership of President Brown, the Trustees resisted the effort and the case for Dartmouth was argued by Dartmouth alumnus  Daniel Webster, before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1818.

Daniel Webster Pleads Dartmouth Case –  Displayed in Thayer Dining Hall   Robert Burns painted it in 1962 in acccordance with the will of Col. Henry Nelson Teague 1900

Webster argued the college’s case against William H. Woodward, the state-approved secretary of the new board of trustees. Webster’s speech in support of Dartmouth was so moving that it apparently helped convince Chief Justice John Marshall, also reportedly bringing tears to Webster’s eyes.

Dartmouth College Case Stamp Issued 1969

Webster’s legendary claim, “This, sir, is my case! It is the case not merely of that humble institution; it is the case of every college in our land! … [I]t is, sir, as I have said, a small college, and yet there are those who love it,” earned him a national reputation and Dartmouth a clear victory.

The Dartmouth case helped establish Daniel Webster’s reputation for eloquence and persuasiveness.   A scene from the classic movie, The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), based upon the short story by Stephen Vincent Benet, in which Daniel Webster bests Satan in a jury trial to save the soul of New Hampshireman Jabez Stone.   In this scene Daniel Webster addresses a jury of the damned, all villains of American history.  Tellingly, Jabez was also accused of breach of contract, though of the Faustian kind.  I have always thought this speech one of the most eloquent statements of what it means to be an American.  Go here to read the passage in the Stephen Vincet Benet’s short story.

The jury of the damned in the film is slightly altered from the original, as revealed in the following dialogue:

Scratch: Captain Kidd, he killed men for gold. Simon Girty, the renegade; he burned men for gold. Governor Dale, he broke men on the wheel. Asa, the Black Monk, he choked them to death. Floyd Ireson and Stede Bonnet, the fiendish butchers. Walter Butler, the king of the massacre. Big and Little Harp, robbers and murderers. Teach, the cutthroat. Morton, the vicious lawyer. And General Benedict Arnold, you remember him, no doubt.
Webster: A jury of the damned.
Scratch: Dastards, liars, traitors, knaves.
Webster: This is monstrous.
Scratch: You asked for a jury trial, Mr Webster. Your suggestion – the quick or the dead.
Webster: I asked for a fair trial.
Scratch: Americans all.

In the original story, Webster regrets Benedict Arnold’s absence, but in the film, he is present and Webster objects, citing him as a traitor and therefore not a true American. His objection is dismissed by the judge.

Chief Justice John Marshall wrote the historic decision in favor of Dartmouth College, thereby paving the way for all American private institutions to conduct their affairs in accordance with their charters and without interference from the state. In a letter following the proceedings, Justice Joseph Story explained “the vital importance to the well-being of society and the security of private rights of the principles on which the decision rested. Unless I am very much mistaken, these principles will be found to apply with an extensive reach to all the great concerns of the people and will check any undue encroachments on civil rights which the passions or the popular doctrines of the day may stimulate our State Legislatures to adopt.”

It was not a popular decision at the time, and a public outcry ensued. Thomas Jefferson’s earlier commiseration with New Hampshire Governor William Plumer stated essentially that the earth belongs to the living. Popular opinion influenced some state courts and legislatures to declare that state governments had an absolute right to amend or repeal a corporate charter. The courts, however, have imposed limitations to this.

After the Dartmouth decision, many states wanted more control so they passed laws or constitutional amendments giving themselves the general right to alter or revoke at will, which the courts found to be a valid reservation. The courts have established, however, that the alteration or revocation of private charters or laws authorizing private charters must be reasonable and cannot cause harm to the members (founders, stockholders, and the like).

The traditional view holds that this case is one of the most important Supreme Court rulings, strengthening the Contract Clause  and limiting the power of the States to interfere with private charters, including those of commercial enterprises.

While the outcome was a tremendous victory for Dartmouth, the turmoil of the four-year legal battle left the College in perilous financial condition and took its toll on the health of President Brown. His condition steadily deteriorating, the Trustees made provisions, in 1819, for “the senior professors…to perform all the public duties pertaining to the Office of President of the College” in the event of his disability. Francis Brown died in July 1820 at the age of 36.

Francis Brown Monument – Burial: Dartmouth College Cemetery, Hanover, New Hampshire,

Francis’ Curriculum Vitae

Installed as pastor of the Congregational Church, North Yarmouth, ME, Jan 11, 1810; elected Professor of Languages in Dartmouth College the same year, but declined; married Feb 4, 1811; elected President of Dartmouth College in August, 1815, and inaugurated Sep 27, 1815; he died at Hanover, NH, Jul 27, 1820. The Presidency of Hamilton College was offered him under date of Mar 17, 1817, but declined, May 28th. He received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from both Hamilton and Williams Colleges in 1819. For contributions to the literature of his profession he had little time or strength. Several of his addresses and sermons were published, viz.: Address on Music, delivered before the Handel Society of Dartmouth College, 1809; The Faithful Steward; Sermon at the Ordination of Allen Greeley, 1810; Sermon on the Occasion of the State Fast, 1812; Sermon before the Maine Missionary Society, 1814; Sermon at the Ordination of Jonathan Greenleaf, at Wells, Me., 1815; Calvin and Calvinism, 1815; Reply to the Rev. Martin Ruter’s Letter Relating to Calvin and Calvinism, 1815; Sermon before the Convention of Congregational and Presbyterian Ministers of New Hampshire, Concord, N. H., 1818.

Descendants

Francis’ son and grandson were “wikipedia famous” in their on right.

Francis’ son Samuel Gilman Brown (1813–1885) was an American educator. He was born in North Yarmouth, Maine, and graduated at Dartmouth in 1831 and at Andover Theological Seminary in 1837; was professor of oratory and belles-lettres in Dartmouth from 1840 to 1863, and held the chair of intellectual philosophy and political economy from 1863 to 1867. From 1867 to 1881 he was president of Hamilton College. Among his published works are Biographies of Self-Taught Men (1847) and an excellent and authoritative Life of Rufus Choate [American lawyer, Senator  and orator]  (two volumes, 1862).

Samue Gilman Brown (1813–1885) Bowdoin College faculty

Francis’ grandson Rev. Francis Brown (Theologian) ( 1849 – 1916) was a Semitic scholar

The younger Francis graduated from Dartmouth in 1870 and from the Union Theological Seminary in 1877, and then studied in Berlin. In 1879 he became instructor in biblical philology at the Union Theological Seminary, in 1881 an associate professor of the same subject, and in 1890 Davenport Professor of Hebrew and the cognate Languages.

Dr. Brown’s published works won him honorary degrees from the universities of Glasgow and Oxford, as well as from Dartmouth and Yale; they are, with the exception of The Christian Point of View (1902; with Profs. A.C. McGiffert and G.W. Knox), almost purely linguistic and lexical, and include Assyriology: its Use and Abuse in Old Testament Study(1885), and the important revision of Wilhelm Hendrik Gesenius, undertaken with S.R. Driver and C.A. Briggs — Brown Driver Briggs,   He also contributed to the Encyclopaedia Biblica

Francis’ crowning acheivement Brown Driver Briggs is still in print today

Brown Driver BriggsA Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (1891–1905). or BDB (from the name of its three authors) is a standard reference for Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic, first published in 1906. It is organized by (Hebrew) alphabetical order of three letter roots. It was based on the Hebrew-German lexicon of Wilhelm Gesenius, translated by Edward Robinson. The chief editor was Francis Brown, with the co-operation of Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs, hence the name Brown–Driver–Briggs. Some modern printings have added the Strong’s reference numbers for Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic words

 

 

 

 

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